MJ has be­trayed those he in­flu­enced

The Asian Age - - Oped - Aakar Pa­tel Aakar Pa­tel is a writer, colum­nist and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional ( In­dia)

About 25 years ago, I came from Su­rat to Bom­bay ( as it was then called) look­ing for work. The fam­ily busi­ness of polyester man­u­fac­tur­ing had col­lapsed. My ed­u­ca­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tion was that I had a diploma in tex­tile tech­nol­ogy. This came through a two- year course in op­er­at­ing ma­chin­ery, af­ter I had dropped out of school. Mean­ing I had no qual­i­fi­ca­tion for white- col­lar of­fice work.

I tried to get a job in the im­port- ex­port busi­ness and also the stock mar­ket ( be­ing qual­i­fied as a Gu­jarati), but there was noth­ing hap­pen­ing there at the time as the Har­shad Me­hta scam had just bro­ken.

I was stay­ing with a friend’s sis­ter and her fam­ily in Vile Parle and spend the days look­ing for work from place to place. One day, on the lo­cal train, I no­ticed an ad­ver­tise­ment for a job in a news­pa­per. To cut a fairly long and bor­ing story short, I ap­plied and dis­cov­ered, to my shock, that I had got the job be­cause jour­nal­ism re­quired no par­tic­u­lar skill. Ex­actly 30 days later, that pa­per shut down but I was able to get an­other job in a news­pa­per, this time The Asian Age. The ed­i­tor was M. J. Ak­bar, whom I had not known by rep­u­ta­tion or fame, be­cause Su­rat at that time did not have any English news­pa­pers.

I worked in the Mum­bai of­fice ( the name of the city was changed in that same pe­riod) of the pa­per from 1995 to 1998 and I must say it was a trans­for­ma­tional ex­pe­ri­ence. I had come from a back­ground where women were not seen in the of­fice space. The fac­to­ries that my fam­ily ran, which were re­ally small man­u­fac­tur­ing units, did have a few fe­male em­ploy­ees, but these were all labour­ers. In the lan­guage of the in­dus­try they were clas­si­fied as “helpers” mean­ing that they car­ried some light car­tons from here to there and cleaned up the spa­ces, but that was the ex­tent of their par­tic­i­pa­tion. In the news­pa­per of­fice where I had my first job, the women were equal par­tic­i­pants. In fact, my boss was also a woman. This was an ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence and one that all small town men should be forced to go through. I had to learn to change my view of women and that was a very good thing.

The sec­ond thing that was trans­for­ma­tional was the ex­po­sure to in­di­vid­u­als who were much smarter than I was and much bet­ter read than I was. It is hard to ex­plain to some­one who has been raised in a place like Delhi, Mum­bai, Hy­der­abad or Kolkata, how lim­ited the ex­po­sure of peo­ple from places like Su­rat is. This was es­pe­cially true in that pe­riod be­fore the In­ter­net and be­fore even there was much pri­vate tele­vi­sion. Su­rat was not, and is not, a place that is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in learn­ing and knowl­edge, un­less it con­cerns mak­ing money. There was only one book­shop there 30 years ago that sold English books, and this was a city of about 15 lakh peo­ple or so.

So to be ex­posed to peo­ple of the same age as I — women and men — who knew and un­der­stood as­pects of the world through learn­ing rather than purely ex­pe­ri­ence was for me a very sig­nif­i­cant thing.

None of these in­di­vid­u­als was more in­flu­en­tial than Ak­bar. My role was in Mum­bai and he was based in Delhi and so the op­por­tu­nity for in­ter­ac­tion was not as much. But I was able to en­gage a lit­tle with his per­son­al­ity and a lot with his writ­ing.

I was a con­ser­va­tive, highly na­tion­al­is­tic, fairly closed- minded Hindu man. Ak­bar was to­tally above re­li­gion in a way that I have not seen in an­other In­dian in­di­vid­ual. He was not de­fined by his faith but by his in­tel­lect and his out­look and his read­ing and writ­ing. He re­de­fined to many of us what In­dian iden­tity meant. He broad­ened it and he made it more lib­eral, more flex­i­ble and more at­trac­tive. It felt good to be In­dian in this way. One did not have to hate Pak­istan or China or other In­di­ans to be able to take pride in one’s iden­tity.

Those peo­ple whom he in­flu­enced deeply in this way, Ak­bar has let down ( I would use the word be­trayed) twice. He was al­ways seen as op­por­tunis­tic about his pol­i­tics and his U- turn of re­cent years, which was ac­com­pa­nied by very unAk­bar cham­cha­giri, was dis­heart­en­ing. But one could laugh it off be­cause a rogue in pol­i­tics is noth­ing un­usual. We could at least tell our­selves that the real in­di­vid­ual was some­one dif­fer­ent than the one run­ning af­ter the chair.

How­ever, these rev­e­la­tions about his as­saults on young women mean that his rep­u­ta­tion and all that he has stood for is in tat­ters for all time, and rightly. His cred­i­bil­ity as a writer and a thinker is also di­min­ished if not fin­ished. I hope he is fired, rather than al­lowed to re­sign.

The rev­e­la­tions about his as­saults on young women mean that his rep­u­ta­tion and all that he has stood for is in tat­ters for all time, and rightly. His cred­i­bil­ity as a writer and a thinker is also di­min­ished if not fin­ished.

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